The Fashion Villain

Your Style Guide To Taking Over The World

fashion villain

Words: Nhlanhla Masemola | Illustrations: Lapin Blanc

My first thought after watching episode one of BBC America's Killing Eve was "Gosh, villains are swell'. That might sound disturbing when only held up against the sheer corruption, elaborate scheming, cruelty plus explicit evilness with which villains are most often known for. But stay with me. From comic books, television and film to (quite frightfully) politics, we are taught that bad guys are not nice. They cheat and steal and show us the true depths of man's flawed nature. More so now than ever, in a time where real-life bad guys seem to be winning. It's no surprise then that the anxiety that plagues our world and newsfeeds would naturally filter onto our television screens. Just last year saw series like Westworld, The Handmaid's Tale and Big Little Lies to films like Get Out receiving unprecedented followings for their timely visions of our problematic landscape.

Killing Eve, starring Sandra Oh and based on Luke Jennings' Codename Villanelle, introduces a smart and talented villain that is refreshingly competent and off-kilter as far as dangerous dames go. But she's still the bad guy – so why root for her? How is it that deplorable characters have become so pervasive to the extent that they're an integral part of storytelling and literature? It probably has something to do with our attachment to archetypes. Carl Jung thought so and I'd say It probably has something to do with a villain's ambition and deeply driven personality. Often the best scoundrels behave proactively and never rely on flimsy devices like 'providence' to get what they want. They tear up rule books for sport and are despicable at times, but at least they have the audacity to be themselves where it counts. Even at the height of some likely kind of narcissism it isn't hard to read them as, on some level, confident. And then there's that bit about probably being cunning and scrappy enough to survive an apocalypse. And this makes them oddly alluring.

But within the echelons of villainy arguably lies a villain so fabulously foul they're in an entire league of their own: the fashion villain. Fashionable villains, personified by the likes of Cruella De Vil and Patrick Bateman, are basically the worst because they look so good when they're really, really bad. Being mean and tyrannical is never excusable but confidence and feeling all-powerful should be available to us all. Trendy villains come in all shapes and sizes but there seems to be discernible commonalities that bind them together, things that we can all take note of and apply to our personal style and wardrobes. So let's break down exactly what it is that gives them their impeccable edge:

Smarter-than-you spectacles

fashion villain

It's really all in the presentation, what villains wear to inspire fear in the hearts of men or simply to deceive. Anyone who's watched The Devil Wears Prada will be hard-pressed to talk of the film without mentioning the decked-out Meryl Streep. Why? Aside from her chilling performance and a...killer wardrobe (couldn't resist) her character wears a mean pair of spectacles. It seems that a surefire way to play up power and feel smart is to wear glasses. Breaking Bad's 'dadcore' enthusiast Walter White knew this and now so do we.

Black anything, black everything

fashion villain

What do Catwoman and Harry Potter's Bellatrix Lestrange have in common? Besides probably sitting on the bad side of sociopath they both have the tendency to wear a lot of black. Black has had a bad rap once being reserved for underground subcultures. Known as the go-to colour of brooding anti-heroes and vampires; black is more than just death and decay. Black gives depth and a sense of aloofness that makes it seem like you're either very serious about anything or one of those people forever on trend. It's noticed that these characters wear black to often intimidate and add sex appeal. You too can be a vision of smouldering intensity by wearing a lot of black.

Capes and hoods for added drama

fashion villain

As a rule any character who wears a cape or hood on Game of Thrones (read this piece on Game of Thrones style) is probably going to betray you and reveal themselves as the penultimate villain. They're probably mean and tortured – emotionally but most likely also physically – but boast an exquisite dress sense. And that's more important. No one's going to mess with the red witch Melisandre. Or Magneto from X-Men. Or any villain with a penchant for flowing capes, because you know they mean business. 

High heels. For keeping you on your toes

fashion villain

Ugly Betty was a great show for it's comical representation of the fashion industry. It was absurd and even pertinent at times with its sharp one-liners, nonsensical fashion jargon and oh-so beautiful clothes. But it's important to note that most of the fashion villains like Wilhelmina Slater were running around in high heels. It's not strictly about the height or only relegated to the wardrobes of women, but it's more the formality of it all. Villains in heels are scary because they appear poised and in-charge and you're never quite sure if they'll throw a shoe at you. Functional or deadly, heels have to make the list.

Big shoulders for a big ego

fashion villain

The 80s occupy an often unflattering spot in fashion history. Remembered as an embarrassing period for generations past, the fashion was gaudy and big: big hair, big shoulders, big silhouettes. The rise of popular 80s-era shows like Pose and Glow prove that the 80s are back in fashion and looking luxurious has never been more coveted. Fashion notes taken from key antagonists like Elektra Abundance and Alexis Carrington of Dynasty seem to be that more is never enough. Feel powerful through relaxed suiting in rich colours and dramatic accessories to give that 'everyone else is nothing but an extra' impression.

'Good versus evil' has been a fascinating point of inspiration for the books and series; at this point it's up there in our collective consciousness so we're pretty much stuck with fictional heroes and villains. Which is great because villains are swell, not for their nature, but for how they're tools to better understand the human condition. And villains that dress well are equally important as they allow us to imagine what it would look like to dress for world domination in turbulent times.

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